Governor's Veto puts Alaska's Head Start Programs at Risk

Published: Jun. 29, 2019 at 6:51 PM AKDT
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Governor Mike Dunleavy has repeatedly said that K-12 education will be completely funded this year. Early education was not included in funding, reflected in yesterday's vetoes.The Head Start program for Alaska has lost all state funding. Yesterday, while the Governor was announcing the vetoes to fiscal year 2020 budget, Thrivalaska and its partner groups were holding an open house event for child care assistance, here in Fairbanks. Executive Director of Thrivalaska, the group that organizes Head Start, spoke about when she was first informed about the veto.

"My response is 'Ahhh!'", exclaimed Berka. "I've already sent letters to the board. We're advocating with legislators again. We're trying to figure out what we can do."

$6.8 million USD is what Governor cut from the Head Start program. That equals to roughly 25% of the program's budget. Although, that might not seem like too large of an impact, Alicia Berka says, it affects their other funding as well.

"The state subsidized the federal grant, in terms of their match," began Berka. "For every dollar you get from the federal grant, you have to have $0.25 in match from your community or your state. The federal money has always been supplemented by the state.”

Without state funding, Head Start no longer applies for the federal funding grants, which accounts for most of the other 75% of the money it needs. The program is not like other preschools. Families have to apply for their children to be enrolled. Head start cares for children age birth through five years of age. It is designed to aid low-income and at risk families. On top aiding children with developmental education and meals, the program also helps families by giving them information about resources, including health services.

Currently, 142 children are a part of the Fairbanks Head Start program.

With this veto, starting Monday July 1st, the program no longer has funding.

Of the $6.8 million the Governor vetoed, the Fairbanks facility was meant to receive half a million dollars. According to Berka, that pays for most of their staff- from teachers to the IT department. Berka says the immediate response to the veto is to cut two teaching positions, and drop one class, which is 18 children. For the next three to six months, the program will be running on emergency funds. That means as early as September, the state may no longer have a head start program if alternate funds are not found.

“We may not even be able to run our program," said Berka. "I just think that these cuts are short-sided. I think that the governor has literally- in an effort to please people, by giving them a full Permanent Fund Dividend - he's cut out education all the way from birth, all the way through college.”

Berka says that all of Head Start's programs will remain active, but it is unclear how long that will last.

Other early childhood education programs also received cuts, including the Best Beginnings' program. We have not been able to verify the affects the veto will have on that program.